After studying at the Brussels Académie des Beaux-Arts and winning first prize at the 1812 Ghent Salon, François-Joseph Navez received a grant to visit Paris. He trained with Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David and returned to Brussels when David was exiled there in 1816. In technique and naturalism, Navez's works strongly reflect David's influence. While in Italy from 1817 to 1821, he became a fervent admirer of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and his portraits began to reflect something of Ingres's combined Neoclassical and Romantic sensibilities.
Upon returning to Brussels, Navez was disappointed to discover he was considered a mere portrait and genre painter rather than a history painter. Being David's heir-apparent also put him out of step with Brussels's new artistic climate, where Romanticism was the fashion. Around 1830 Navez became director of the Brussels Académie. He was able to adopt a sugary Romantic style, but he could not accommodate the vogue for Belgian Realists at the Brussels Salon of 1851. Navez stopped exhibiting but continued painting. He resigned from the directorship of the Académie in 1859. Hard of hearing and blind, he devoted his last years to his correspondence, which is now a rich source of information on mid-nineteenth-century artistic life.